When looking for the health benefits of fiber, your best bet is to stick with food – and not supplements.
Eating high fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds helps protect against heart disease, promotes satiety, may prevent against certain types of cancer and optimizes blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
But it’s the food sources of fiber – not supplements – that have been shown to yield the most health benefits.
One area where fiber supplements can be helpful however, is in the bowels, particularly for those who suffer from constipation. Some people – regardless of their diet, fluid intake, and exercise levels – may find themselves becoming reliant on these products to promote regularity.
In that case – you might want to check out the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements’ new Dietary Supplement Label Database. This database lists over 17,000 dietary supplements, including active ingredients and the Dietary Supplement Facts label.
A quick search for “fiber” shows 77 different fiber supplements available on today’s US market. Most of these contain some combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, and the majority have psyllium. Psyllium is a bulk-forming laxative that absorbs water in the intestines, swells, and creates a bulky stool that is easy to pass.
If you do turn to supplements for dietary fiber, don’t forget to increase your water. Taking dietary fiber supplements (or eating high fiber foods) without adequate fluid can have the opposite of the intended effect, and actually increase – rather than decrease – constipation.